By Kyle Peveto, Staff Writer
A limestone burial box that may have held the bones of James, the brother of Jesus, was made public last week.
The box, or ossuary, was dated to A.D. 63 by scientists and was confirmed to be at least 19 centuries old by the Israeli government’s geological survey.
Inscribed on the box in Aramaic was “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”
These findings are published in the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review by Andre Lemaire, who teaches at the Sorbonne in Paris.
Some scholars doubt that the box was made for James, Jesus’ brother.
According to Lemaire, in a city the size of Jerusalem where Christian tradition holds that James was a leader of the early church there could have been as many as 20 men named James with a brother named Jesus and a father named Joseph.
What makes the ossuary special is the mention of a brother on the top. Of the hundreds of ossuaries unearthed, only two have mentioned a brother’s name.
Some scholars infer the mention of Jesus means he was an important person or that he paid for the ossuary, said Dr. Ken Cukrowski, associate dean of academic programs and associate professor of the New Testament.
The ossuary would be the oldest archaeological link to Jesus to be found since a fragment of John 18 from A.D. 125 was found in Egypt in 1920.
“It’s not like the Dead Sea Scrolls; it won’t change the way we look at things,” Cukrowski said. “People will use it for confirmation” of their faith, he added.
Jewish families commonly used ossuaries between 20 B.C. and A.D. 70 to store bones about a year after the death of a loved one.
The ossuary was found at least 15 years ago and was sold to a private collector, who wished to remain anonymous.
The collector did not realize the possible significance of the box until he asked Lemaire to interpret the Aramaic, which was the common language of the Jews in the first century.
This month the ossuary will travel to Toronto Canada’s Royal Ontario Museum for display during the annual meeting of Bible scholars. The Israeli government granted a four-month export license to allow it out of the country before knowing the significance of the box.
When the ossuary returns in February, the Israeli Antiquities Authority will examine it for up to 90 days before returning it to the owner.